Tuesday, July 28, 2009

American Patriot/Hero of the Week

This week's "Heroes" shout out goes to Bruce "Snakeshit" Crandall and Ed "To Tall" Freeman. Both of these men received the Medal of Honor for their actions in the Battle of Ia Drang during the Vietnam War. These men flew in unarmed helicopters, through intense gunfire, to deliver ammunition, and though it was not their mission, evacuated the wounded of the 7th and 5th Cavalry. You might have seen a recreation of the heroic actions these men preformed in a little movie called We Were Soldiers.

Bruce "Snakeshit" Crandall, so named because he, "flew lower than snake shit", was born here in the Northwest in Olympia, Washington. He was drafted into the US Army in 1953. He became an aviator and served several tours in Vietnam. Beyond his actions in the Ia Drang Valley, Crandall flew many rescue missions to recover injured soldiers and downed pilots. Crandall suffered many injuries such as a broken back, and unfortunately his flying career was ended when he had a stroke. Despite his injuries and stroke, he continued to serve in the military until his retirement in 1977 at the rank of LT. Colonel.

Bruce Crandall's Medal of Honor Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Major Bruce P. Crandall distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as a Flight Commander in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). On 14 November 1965, his flight of sixteen helicopters was lifting troops for a search and destroy mission from Plei Me, Vietnam, to Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. On the fourth troop lift, the airlift began to take enemy fire, and by the time the aircraft had refueled and returned for the next troop lift, the enemy had Landing Zone X-Ray targeted. As Major Crandall and the first eight helicopters landed to discharge troops on his fifth troop lift, his unarmed helicopter came under such intense enemy fire that the ground commander ordered the second flight of eight aircraft to abort their mission. As Major Crandall flew back to Plei Me, his base of operations, he determined that the ground commander of the besieged infantry battalion desperately needed more ammunition. Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers. While medical evacuation was not his mission, he immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft. Major Crandall's voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time. After his first medical evacuation, Major Crandall continued to fly into and out of the landing zone throughout the day and into the evening. That day he completed a total of 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, retiring from the battlefield only after all possible service had been rendered to the Infantry battalion. His actions provided critical resupply of ammunition and evacuation of the wounded. Major Crandall's daring acts of bravery and courage in the face of an overwhelming and determined enemy are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

Ed "Too Tall" Freeman, so named because when he originally applied for pilot training he was too tall at 6'4", hailed from Mississippi and flew as Bruce Crandall's wingman. Like Crandall, Freeman, having no regard for his own safety, flew ammunition and water into the Ia Drang Valley and evacuated the wounded. Freeman left Vietnam in '66 and the Army the next year. He resettled to Treasure Valley here in the Northwest in the great state of Idaho. He continued to show his bravery by flying firefighting missions to combat wildfires here in the Northwest. When Freeman was nominated for his Medal of Honor, it was determined that he did not qualify due to a two year time limit and was instead awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. When the time limit was removed in 1995, his nomination again came to the attention of Congress. Freeman was formally presented his medal July 16, 2001, by President George W. Bush.

Ed Freeman's Medal of Honor Citation:
Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November 1965 while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The unit was almost out of ammunition after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force. When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the besieged battalion. His flights had a direct impact on the battle's outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival, without which they would almost surely have gone down, with much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life-saving evacuation of an estimated 30 seriously wounded soldiers -- some of whom would not have survived had he not acted. All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman's selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers. Captain Freeman's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

It is Important to note that these men's actions take on significant importance when you consider that they had to fly the rescue missions in the Ia Drang because the unit tasked with this duty refused due to the danger to themselves and their aircraft. Crandall and Freeman represent the true qualities of a hero and the best traditions of the United States military.

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